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E117 | How To Do Disruptive Innovation with Tendayi Viki

If you’re wondering how you can find time from everyday business operations to do innovation, today’s guest, Tendayi Viki, is the guy you want to listen to. 

He’s an award winning author and corporate innovation expert. He’s also been recognised by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s foremost business strategic thinkers, and he’s the author of three books, the latest of which is Pirates In The Navy

Tendayi’s biggest bugbear is innovation theatre, those companies that look like they’re doing innovation, but aren’t, and so he shares his thoughts on how to innovate properly. 

What you don’t need, says Tendayi, is an entrepreneur in residence. Having a startup mindset doesn’t require you to actually employ a startup founder, nor do you need to install ping pong tables either. 

What you actually need, if you’re going to innovate, if you’re going to come up with another big idea that’s going to drive the revenue of your business in the long term, is to figure out how to structure it, how to staff it and how to measure its success. 

So to find out how to innovate in your business, because let’s face it, any business that stands still gets left behind, download and listen to this latest episode. It’s a great conversation. 

On today’s podcast:

  • Why businesses suck at innovation
  • How to become a pirate
  • Corporate intrapreneurs
  • Why you don’t want startup innovation theatre 
  • The metrics to measure innovation
  • The companies doing innovation well
  • How to spot core business troubles


Doing Disruptive Innovation While Running Your Business with Tendayi Viki

Tendayi Viki is an award winning author and corporate innovation expert. He’s been recognised by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s foremost business strategic thinkers. He’s also written his third book, Pirates in the Navy

So if you’re just doing innovation theatre in your business, rather than actually innovating, you’re wasting your time. Tendayi knows how to do it properly, what you need, and more importantly what you don’t need. 

If you’re going to innovate, if you’re going to come up with another big idea that’s going to drive the revenue of your business in the long term, how do you structure it? Who staffs it? How do you measure success? 

And also, if you don’t innovate, if you stand still, you’ll get left behind. If you want to stay out front in business, says Tendayi, you need to have one eye on the competition, because if you aren’t developing new products and services, and preparing exponential innovation for tomorrow, there will be someone else in your industry who is. And it’ll happen gradually and then it will happen suddenly, and you’ll be overtaken and redundant. 

Listen to Tendayi, he spends his time working inside large organisations, helping them build their innovation capabilities. He knows what he’s talking about. 


So if every company needs to innovate to grow, why do so many companies struggle with it? 

Essentially, says Tendayi, unless you’re actually deliberately blocking off the time to intentionally drive innovation, it’s hard.

Which is why you might want to read his latest book, which isn’t actually about pirates, that was a good clickbait title. 

There’s this notion that entrepreneurship is brash, buccaneering pirates. Steve Jobs said ‘it’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy’. And that’s fine, if you’re an entrepreneur, but if you’re an established company, that attitude won’t work for you. 

Saying that, there’s aspects of entrepreneurship that are really powerful, things like being innovative, being inventive, being creative, really thinking about the future, seeing things that other people can’t see and taking creative directions to try and solve those. And those are the aspects of entrepreneurship Tendayi says companies should adopt. 

How to become a pirate

So here’s the thing, says Tendayi:

“I try to make a distinction between two things. There’s the one part which is the creative, innovative, breakthrough idea, generating inventive personality. And then there’s the brash, swashbuckling, crazy, disruptive person.”

He tells innovators, if you’re going to learn anything from entrepreneurs, only take the creative, innovative breakthrough idea stuff, and leave behind the swashbuckling, disruptive, abrasive personality. The superpower of a corporate innovator is their ability to innovate really well, to be inventive and really see the future and drive a powerful vision. But at the same time, to have sufficient political acumen that they can build good relationships inside the company, to drive themselves towards success. 

“And that’s what distinguishes a corporate innovator from a typical entrepreneur. And that’s how you become a pirate.”

Innovation theatre

The problem with corporate innovation is that everyone gets fired up to disrupt the company, then nothing happens. 

According to Tendayi, that’s because people are invested in innovation theatre, not innovation itself. 

“What do we mean when we say innovation theatre? We mean people engaging in behaviours that look like innovation. So they have sticky notes, foosball tables, that whiteboard, they have an idea competition. And then nothing of value comes up after that.”

The fundamental role of innovation is value creation, not just generating ideas. Creativity is about generating ideas. Once you have your ideas generated, the next goal is to turn those ideas into businesses that create value. 

“So a lot of innovation teams have really great ideas, but there’s no strategic alignment between what they’re working on, and what the company wants to really focus on in terms of innovation.”

Resulting in those creative ideas remaining just that, ideas. 

You could get around this by bringing in an intrapreneur and giving them free reign with your innovation, but you have to be careful you don’t just bring in a startup founder or an entrepreneur in residence, someone who will make people angry. 

If you want to get innovation going in your company, infuse your company with a startup culture. But be specific about the things you want. Don’t take the whole entrepreneurial package. 

“You have to say, ‘we want to be able to generate a whole tonne of ideas, we want to be able to invest a little bit in teams that allow them to test those ideas. We want to allow space for some of those ideas to fail, and only double down investment on those things that are showing success.”

Companies shouldn’t act like a startup, they should act like a venture capital portfolio. They need to make multiple small bets, increasing the bets on the ideas that show traction. But how do you track the ideas that are succeeding or failing? 

“How do you celebrate the failure? And make sure that it’s not career suicide for the people that have been involved in it?”

Because that’s the thing about innovation, some of the bets you make won’t succeed and you want to celebrate every team, in order to keep people innovating. 

Book recommendations

Adam Grant – Originals

Cal Newport – So Good They Can’t Ignore You

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